The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Maryland comes agonizingly close to passing death-with-dignity legislation

The Maryland Statehouse glows after dusk in Annapolis on April 9, 2018.
The Maryland Statehouse glows after dusk in Annapolis on April 9, 2018. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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NEW JERSEY lawmakers this week approved legislation allowing terminally ill patients to end their lives with medical assistance. Once Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signs the bill, as he has promised to do, eight jurisdictions in the country — seven states and the District of Columbia — will offer relief to dying patients in making end-of-life decisions. Maryland unfortunately missed a chance this week to join these states in allowing those who are suffering a measure of control.

The Maryland Senate on Wednesday, in a 23-to-23 vote, failed to pass legislation that would have allowed certain terminally ill Marylanders to end their lives by obtaining medication from a physician. Under the End-of-Life Option Act sponsored by Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) and Del. Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard), Maryland residents who have six months or less to live, and retain the mental capacity to make medical decisions, would have been allowed to obtain and self-administer life-ending medications.

It was the fourth time the measure has been introduced since 2015. “I want to tell the advocates that I am sorry we couldn’t get this bill passed,” Ms. Pendergrass told us. “I know there are people who are now suffering who would have been helped.” At the same time, though, Ms. Pendergrass and other backers of the bill were encouraged by how far the bill advanced this year. Previous efforts stalled in House and Senate committees, but this year the bill advanced to the floor of both chambers, easily passing in the House before just failing in the Senate.

The Senate vote came after the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee muddied the waters with a host of onerous amendments. Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), chairman of the committee, defended the changes as adding protections, but the requirements would have made the law nearly impossible for patients to use. The original bill contained strict safeguards that have proved to be successful in other states. The addition of preposterous requirements (such as stripping criminal and civil liability protections from participating doctors) could be seen only as an attempt to sabotage the bill. Indeed, so many hurdles were added that the leading advocacy group said it couldn’t support the bill if the amendments remained.

No doubt the shenanigans by Mr. Zirkin’s committee were a factor in a loss of momentum for the bill that resulted in Wednesday’s agonizing tie vote. But if the experience of other states with aid-in-dying laws is any guide — New Jersey debated the issue for seven years — it is only a matter of time before physician-assisted deaths become a reality in Maryland. Sadly, though, that will be too late for some people who are desperately in need of this legislation.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Other states have pioneered death with dignity. Maryland should follow suit.

Letters to the Editor: Two views on Maryland’s end-of-life legislation

Ryan T. Anderson: Maryland’s end-of-life bill is about one thing: Killing

Mary Klein: I’m dying, and I’d like D.C.’s Death with Dignity Act to help

Jason Chaffetz and Jim DeMint: D.C. is disregarding the sanctity of life. Congress must act.